NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt, it was a blessed night. “To me, this is what the Southern Baptist Convention ought to be about,” he told members of the SBC Executive Committee at their Feb. 19 meeting. “I’ve been blessed.”
Last September, Merritt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville, challenged members of the Executive Committee to share their faith with at least one person prior to the February Executive Committee meeting.
On Feb. 19, Executive Committee members came ready to testify.
What started out as the opening plenary session of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee turned into an evening of uplifting testimonies as committee members shared of leading people to Jesus Christ in pizza joints, taxi cabs, airplanes and hospitals.
Preaching a message filled with military imagery, Merritt told the Executive Committee that the world is filled with nonbelievers unaware that they are at war with God.
“When Jesus Christ died on that cross, God said, from this point on, ‘I no longer declare war on the human race, I declare peace on the human race,'” Merritt said.
Taking his text from 2 Corinthians 5:18, Merritt delivered an abbreviated sermon titled, “Cast Away.”
“I shared a message yesterday [Feb. 18] on a great doctrine which I think in one word summarizes what I hope and pray Southern Baptists will always be about,” Merritt said. “And it’s the great doctrine of reconciliation.”
Merritt provided three points noting that the apostle Paul says that God initiates reconciliation because of sin.
“It’s not that God had to be reconciled to us,” Merritt said. “We had to be reconciled to God.
The convention president also noted that God facilitates reconciliation through his Son, Jesus Christ.
“It is only through his death that we have reconciliation,” he said. “It is only through his death that we have justification. It is only through his death we can have regeneration.”
Finally, Merritt noted, God delegates reconciliation to his saints.
“God has given us the ministry of reconciliation … the word of reconciliation … the mission of reconciliation,” he said.
Putting it into practice
Noting that he would be remiss if he had not followed the same challenge he had issued to Executive Committee members, Merritt recounted what he called “one of the greatest soul-winning experiences of my life.”
On Feb. 13, Merritt and his brother, a deacon at First Baptist Church Snellville, visited a man who had e-mailed the church’s television ministry.
“He said he had been watching on television and had visited the church,” Merritt said. “In his e-mail, he told me about the rough life he had lived.”
Merritt told the crowd that the man’s family life was in shambles. Something in the letter caught Merritt’s attention and he felt impressed to go and personally visit the gentleman.
It turned out the man had been an Army Ranger for 18 and a half years and had grown up in a hard, toughened Army home. All he knew was the Army, Merritt said.
“He said, ‘Preacher, just to be honest with you, you’ve seen these movies with these hard-driving, hard-drinking, hard-charging sergeants? That’s me. I’m just a hard-drinking, hard-charging sergeant.”
“On every edge as rough as they come,” Merritt said.
Merritt asked if the man would go to heaven when he died and the man replied, “Shoot no, man. I wouldn’t go to heaven.”
A few moments later, Merritt asked the man if he wanted to go to heaven when he died.
“His lips began to quiver and tremble,” Merritt recounted. “And he said, ‘Yes sir.’
“I began to share the gospel with that man and, folks, I’m not lying, right before my eyes, I began to see hardened eyes get soft, I began to see the features relax in his face. His wife … she couldn’t keep the tears from coming back.”
Just as Merritt was about to invite the man to pray the sinner’s prayer, he said he heard a word from God.
“God said, ‘James, you are dealing with a tough soldier,'” he recounted. “I knew exactly what God wanted me to do.”
Using military language, Merritt asked the man if he understood the meaning of unconditional surrender. “I asked him to make an unconditional surrender of his life to Jesus Christ,” he said.
“He told me later that he didn’t remember the last time he cried, but the tears came like the Mississippi River,” Merritt said. “He said, ‘Preacher, that’s exactly what I want to do. I’m tired of being at war with God. I want to surrender my life to Christ.'”
Merritt said the man took his wife by the hand and he prayed to ask Jesus into his heart.
“I looked right at him,” Merritt said. “Daniel, you are exactly right. For 39 and a half years you have been at war with God and didn’t even know it. I told him, I want you to understand that you signed a permanent peace treaty.”
Merritt also informed the man that he had just received a promotion. “For 39 years you’ve been a buck private in the devil’s army,” he said. “Tonight, you’re a four-star general in God’s army. Folks, that’s what Southern Baptists are all about.”